The Sixers opened up their preseason slate on the road against the Brooklyn Nets on Monday night. It was the first time the Sixers had played in Brooklyn and faced Ben Simmons since the deadline deal that exchanged the former first overall pick for James Harden in February. The game also marked Simmons’ first NBA action since the Sixers’ infamous Game 7 loss to the Atlanta Hawks in the 2021 Eastern Conference semifinals. Tyrese Maxey scored 20 points in the first half, and the Sixers claimed a 127-108 victory over the Nets.
Before we get to what I saw, allow me to set the scene.
Joel Embiid, James Harden, and PJ Tucker were out due to rest. Danuel House Jr. had a stiff neck and was unavailable.
Doc Rivers started Tyrese Maxey, De’Anthony Melton, Matisse Thybulle, Tobias Harris, and Paul Reed.
The Nets were without Seth Curry, who missed the game with a left ankle injury. TJ Warren was out with a left foot injury.
Steve Nash started Ben Simmons, Kyrie Irving, Joe Harris, Kevin Durant, and Nic Claxton.
With both Embiid and Harden sitting out, Maxey had an opportunity to control the ball early and to no end. The green light was broken, and his foot pushed the gas pedal through the floor of the Sixers’ offense. He opened the game with a pair of pull-up threes. Maxey then got to the rim for a floater off the glass. He capped off a personal 10-0 run to open the game with a pair of free throws earned from an aggressive drive at the rim. But, the third-year guard wasn’t done. He stuck another pair of free throws and sprinkled in a baseline jumper off the dribble over Durant’s outstretched arms.
It was a little bit of everything from Maxey. His aggression carried the Sixers to a double-digit lead early in the opening frame. His speed shines through more when you’re watching him live than when you watch him on film. And as the first quarter wore on and the pace dictated more halfcourt play, the Sixers made a concerted effort to get Maxey going downhill coming off screens in the middle of the floor. And he waited not a moment too long to exploit those brief pockets of space, turning the corner and igniting his burners as soon as he peeled off those picks from his teammates.
Of particular note was Maxey’s passing. He threaded a needle coming off a screen and found Thybulle cutting to the rim, but the Washington product bobbled and lost the ball. Maxey later left one hanging as he attacked the basket for Reed to retrieve and finish relatively unabated. As much of a game-changer as Maxey’s growth as a scorer and shooter has been, if he improves his passing by even just 5 percent, he probably has a favorable chance of being named an All-Star this season.
Montrezl Harrell was as advertised on offense. Early in his first stint of the game, Harrell sealed off a Net down low out of a Spain action, got rewarded for his efforts, and cleaned up his own miss for a score on the putback. He then scored on a quick sweeping post move a short while later. That’s Harrell’s Modus Operandi to a tee. The Sixers might have to sit in a moderate drop scheme on defense when he’s in the game. But, he’s going to clean the offensive glass and pick up scores around the rim. The physicality and motor with which he plays is going to make him an easy fan favorite. If Rivers avoids over-exposing him in the playoffs, getting Harrell on a minimum deal is going to pay huge dividends for Philadelphia.
The simpler the better with Paul Reed. He wasn’t trying to do too much when given the ball in small doses. Much of his work came from being in the right place at the right time. Whether he was rolling to the cup or sitting in the dunker’s spot, Reed kept it as simple as being in the vicinity of the basket to catch passes delivered by Maxey or Harris for finishes at the rim. The simplicity carried over to the defensive side of the ball. He wasn’t overly physical or aggressive in trying to dominate his assignments. Rather, he focused on cleaning up the glass and limiting Brooklyn to one shot per possession. Even if Reed wasn’t able to secure the rebound, himself, he was sure to tip the ball out and away from the surrounding Nets so that his teammates could potentially chase the rock down and get out in transition.
Who knows how it will look with the ball-dominant Embiid and Harden actually playing, but the Sixers certainly weren’t bashful letting it fly from deep. Even Harris was comfortable pulling the trigger on quick decisions. Perhaps the Sixers are getting with the times and realizing that three is more than two!
De’Anthony Melton’s first attempt to score was an attack at the rim in which he tried to drive through a pair of Brooklyn defenders much like Britain Covey did in his first game returning punts for the Eagles. It didn’t go well for either of them. It didn’t get much better for him from there. Melton cashed in on a triple in the first quarter. But, he struggled mightily with taking care of the ball. Any prolonged instances of having to dribble resulted in live-ball turnovers. Most of his looks from three were off well the mark. The cold shooting happens, especially when you’re not used to your teammates. But, the live-ball turnovers resulting from loose ball-handling is something to watch. The best version of these Sixers is going to have confidence in Melton’s ability to be a competent secondary ball-handler. If he doesn’t find stability as a ball-handler, Melton is going to have to take and make enough threes to be truly effective off the ball. I’m a little bit concerned about his shooting mechanic because he tends not to fully extend the forearm on his shooting arm after releasing the ball. Time will tell, but, as I wrote in my season preview of the Sixers’ offense, the dribbling issue was a problem for him in Memphis, too.
Matisse Thybulle hit a triple over Durant’s contest from the right wing in the first half. But other than that, much the same from Thybulle on offense. He mishandled a number of passes, couldn’t really dribble, and blew a dunk in transition.
Harrell fouled out in 12 minutes. It’s the first game of the preseason, so I’m guessing that’s a scheme not even Doc Rivers could come up with:
The Sixers will host the Cleveland Cavaliers on Wednesday in their second of four preseason games. Tip-off is set for 7 PM, Eastern time. You can catch the action on NBA TV.